The holiday of Rosh Hashanah contains a paradox. On the one hand, we are taught that Rosh Hashanah is the judgment day of mankind. The righteous are granted another year of life, the wicked are slated for destruction, and the average are given until Yom Kippur to mend their ways and merit another year (Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b).
We should be begging God for another year of life in the hope we can influence our judgment for the better. God’s court is convened. Our books are open. This is our big chance to pray for life.
Yet if we look at the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, such prayers are almost entirely absent. We spend the day proclaiming God as King and yearning for the day when all mankind recognizes this. As wonderful and inspiring as these prayers are, they seem to almost miss the point of the day. We almost do not even ask for a good year for ourselves! Why do our prayers seem to so poorly reflect what is going on in Heaven?
On Rosh Hashanah we are doing something more fundamental than simply begging God for life. We are restarting our relationship with Him. We are casting our past aside and starting fresh. We are not asking God to forgive us and grant us life in spite of our less-than-stellar past. We are ignoring all that and starting completely new – on today, the birthday of the world.
How do we do this? By redefining ourselves and our relationship with God. We declare God as King over the universe – as well as King over us. We identify with the purpose of the world – that all mankind will ultimately recognize and devote themselves to God. We want to be a part of that mission; we want God to be King.
Identifying With the Purpose
Rosh Hashanah is more than just a day of Judgment. It is a day of Accounting. God created the world for a purpose. Every year on the world’s birthday, God reviews the state of the world to see if it is inching closer to or drifting further from that purpose.
The purpose of the world is that mankind recognizes God and makes the world a reflection of His glory. God judges each of us on Rosh Hashanah not just based on our deeds, but based on how much we were a part of that grand mission. By identifying with and praying for God’s kingship to be revealed, we demonstrate that we want to be a part of the world’s purpose. We restart our relationship with God and redevote ourselves to Him. True, we might not have been perfect this past year, but we know what the world is about and we want to be a part of it. We want another year of life. We want to make the world a better place.
The Shofar – The Inner Cry
How do we discard the past and start new? The shofar shows us the way. The shofar is very simple instrument, producing only the most basic sounds. According to the Talmud, its crude and broken sound represents the sound of crying (Rosh Hashanah 33b).
Crying comes from a very deep part of a person’s soul. It is not the voice of our intellect – explaining who we are and what we want from God this year. It is the breaking down and crying – calling out to God from the innermost depths of our heart.
Crying comes from the depths of our soul, a part of us unsullied by our sins and flaws.
Crying cuts through all of our outer layers – of intellect, apathy, and sophistication. It is a call from the part of our soul far beneath all of that – from the part of us never sullied by our sins and flaws. It thus gets us in touch with whom we really are beneath it all. The shofar teaches us to identify with our true selves – and to cry out to God from there. On the outside we might not have been perfect. But deep within – on the level of our inner essence – we are still the same servants of God we have always been.
When the shofar cries, we cry out with it – if we only hear its call. We reach out to God by reaching into ourselves – to that innermost part of our soul unsullied by our past mistakes. On that level we can once again become one with God. We can connect to God and to ourselves fully and without inhibition. Because beneath it all – on the level of the shofar’s call – we are still pure. (See ArtScroll Rosh Hashanah pp. 35-39.)
Living for God
But are we simply sweeping our past mistakes under the rug, pretending we are nothing but pure, unsullied souls? What happened to that baggage that all of us do carry?
The answer demonstrates the true beauty of Rosh Hashanah. We are not just forgetting. We are doing something far more profound. We are growing out of our own perspective. Instead of worrying about our own judgment, about what sort of year God will grant us, we look beyond that and think about God. We declare our deep yearning that the world recognizes God as King. We want all mankind to acknowledge and devote themselves to God.
Instead of worrying about our own fates, we rise and declare that all we care about is God.
God is judging us today, deciding if we will be granted another year of life. But we forget it all and say one thing: “God we care about Your honor. We want Your Name to be magnified among man.” Now that is a true sign of a relationship with God! We put our own worries aside – the fact that our own lives are literally on the line on this judgment day – and we look up to God. We state that what really matters to us are Him and His honor – not our own individual fates. God is all that matters. And with that grand admission, we can start our entire relationship with God anew. We live for Him – and nothing can be more precious to God.
Certainly, there is more to it than that. If we really do identify with God’s mission and so deeply want His Name exalted, we do have some owning up to do. We have made mistakes over the past year. And Yom Kippur will be the time in which we will make amends for them. We will live up to our newfound devotion to God in our actions as well.
But that is for next week. On Yom Kippur we will examine our lives and ensure we are living up to our lofty ideals. But on Rosh Hashanah we do one thing only. We declare our allegiance. We state that we live for God, that we are His. And God in turn will gladly and lovingly gather in His devoted servants.
May we all be granted a year of life, health, happiness, and productivity.